Sunday, July 13, 2008

wieder zu Hause...home again...

I got home Thursday night, have been able to see a lot of my family since then. It is good to be home!

Special thanks to Johannes, Claudia and Michael for their roles in helping to get all of my luggage back...which was rather an ordeal at times. :)

And thanks to all of you who read my blog throughout the year--I hope you found it interesting.

So this chapter of my life is over, and this fall the graduate school chapter begins...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tour de France: Paris

Oh, Paris... I do love this city, although I have to say this is the first time I've been here since experiencing so much of the rest of France, and my perspective has definitely changed a bit.

Sunday we got in, went to the apartment we rented: a-mazing. It's a cute little studio with kitchen, so we've been able to cook meals (and make coffee!!!), a nice break from meat and cheese and baguette at every meal. Only downside is that it is not in the center, so we have been walking a TON (only took the metro once, from the station to the apartment).

Since Sunday was the first of the month all the museums were free--unfortunately we only got to Paris in time to do one visit, the Centre Pompidou.

Paris is getting all set up for their big national celebration --July 14th, Bastille Day. The Champs-Elysees were lined with French flags (and EU flags), chairs are being set up for the big parade. This pictures is a look down the Avenue towards the Arc de Triomphe:
Monday we walked ALL around the city--literally. From our apartment in the 11th, to the Louvre, down the Tuilleries and the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, down to the Tour Eiffel, along the Seine to the Quartier Latin, to the Luxembourg Gardens, past the Pantheon and the Sorbonne to Notre Dame, through the Marais district, Place des Vosges and back. We guessed about 10 miles. :)

One of my favorite things so far was watching the little kids with their sailboats in the Luxembourg Gardens. So cute! They have little sticks where they poke them away from the sides and then the wind caught their sails and they would be off. So cute!

We also went to Versailles, but since I've already been inside the castle twice I treated myself to a beautiful pastry and then we walked through the huge gardens together. They were kicking people out for some private event, but there is no way they could clear out the garden. So these are probably pictures of Versailles with the fewest people in the background you'll ever see. :)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tour de France: La Rochelle, Les Sables d'Olonne

The next step of our journey has taken us to the western sea coast--the Atlantic. (I could just see my homeland across the water...with a bit of imagination...)
the seaport city of La Rochelle:

eating moules frites,mussels with fries:

From La Rochelle we took a bus over to the Ile de Ré, a pretty little island with almost-empty beaches. The beaches here are totally different--sweeping sand, huge tides. Nothing like the southern coast! Also, where the southern coast has color everything here is white. La Rochelle was the last city to be liberated by the Allies in WWII; it was an important sub base for the Germans. We saw a bunch of old bunkers on the island off the coast.

WWII bunkers:

we watched this sailboat for a got caught on the sand as the tide was going out

Then we went up the coast a bit to another beach town called Les Sables d'Olonnes. Beautiful beach, more people. Only French though--I haven't heard any English here yet.

Tomorrow it's off to Paris!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tour de France: Marseille, Bordeaux

Marseille is a huge city. We got in late-afternoon, when the heat was becoming bearable enough to walk outside, and wandered through the city a bit. Impressions: really loud, really dirty. Marseille is a port, with some wealthy areas and then just huge sprawling city for miles.

We hiked up to the Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde (you can see in the picture), 230 m above the city with an amazing view of the sea and the red rooftops. It was a hike, but definitely worth it.

Then we went down to the harbor, had dinner, wandered back to the train station to make our night train to Bordeaux. A few hours of sleep on the night train.


We got in at 5:00 am...wandered through empty dark streets to the river Garonne, watched the sun rise above the water, and then dissappear behind dark clouds. We sat at a café for a while, enjoying a café crème, working at an impossible French sudoku, and watching people.

Below: drinking Bordeaux in Bordeaux during our midday picnic:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tour de France: Grenoble, Aix-en-Provence, Cote d'Azur

So, my last 12 days in Europe will be spent traveling around France with my boyfriend Michael, a huge tour by train that started on Saturday and will end next week in Paris. Here are some notes from the journey...

The first day was a huge travel day...ten hours in the train to reach Grenoble, city set on the edge of the French Alps. The train ride got gradually more interesting as we headed south, with lots of forested hills, cliffs, riverbeds...

Grenoble itself was a beautiful town. Every narrow street you looked down you saw mountains in the background, and the city lies on the Isère River, with scenic old bridges.

In the morning I went to the market, got some goat cheese and talked to the nice cheese man as he delicately wrapped it in paper (no anti-Americanism yet!); he told me his first kiss was from an American... (The conversation went like this: "un crémant, s'il vous plait", "oh, where do you come from?", "oh, mon accent est assez terrible? des Etats Unis.", "my first kiss was from an American, et maintenant, je ne peux plus..." I guess he was there for some time to learn the language while he was young. I like little encounters like that.

The next train ride took us through rural Provence to the city of Aix. We wandered through the colorful old streets (I love this color palette: dirty hues of light orange, pink and beige), admired the fountains, squares and then made it to the TV in time to watch soccer (Euro Cup Finals: Germany vs Spain). Spain won. :(

me with the impressionist painter Cezanne:

Côte d'Azur, the French Riviera
The next train took us through Marseille and Nice to Menton, called the "Secret Riviera". The hotel was closed for midday when we arrived, so we took our backbacks with us down to the beach to kill a few hours. It was hot. Already. Hot hot hot.

Menton is located right on the border to Italy, and is famous for its beautiful gardens. My mormor would have loved it...I thought of her especially. The towns along the coast are nestled into steep cliffs, and again the houses are beautifully painted...light pinks, oranges and yellows with blue or green wooden shutters. The Mediterranean is unbelievably blue--hence the French name for the Riviera: azur...

We went swimming in the sea with this gorgeous little city in the background, huge forested cliffs all around us...picnicked in a park of olive trees (our budget requires a lot of picnics...but with amazing French cheese, local olives, sausage, fresh tomatoes, sometimes's good!)

Yesterday we took a day trip to Nice and Monaco. I'm glad we didn't stay directly in Nice...soooo many tourists, soooo many Americans! It was crazy how much English you hear. But it's a beautiul place so you understand why. Pretty old city and pretty beaches as well. Monaco is its own little country...super wealthy. We got in at night so we saw the famous Monte Carlo Casino all lit up with colored lights. And a gorgeous fountain!

In Nice I had salade niçoise and ratatouille, two typical provençal dishes.